NEWPORT — Now that the City Council has accepted the plan to create a three-sport Abbruzzi Sports Complex — a skate park and basketball court in addition to the existing Little League baseball diamond — what are the next steps?
Who will design and build the new skate park?
Spohn Ranch Skateparks of Los Angeles, California, completed a preliminary design for the Newport facility when it had a planned larger footprint. It was first unveiled to the public in January 2020 at a meeting of the city’s Tree & Open Space Commission.
Spohn Ranch will design and build the skate park, said Doug Sabetti, president of the Friends of Newport Skatepark.
The Friends later agreed to cut the size of the planned skate park by a third in order to preserve the lawn in front of the Little League concession stand, where families spread out blankets and chairs to picnic on game nights.
“We scaled the park back to what the Little League wanted the confines of the skate park and basketball court area to be,” Sabetti told The Daily News. “We sent it back to Spohn Ranch and had them redesign it to stay within those boundaries.”
“We didn’t iron out all of the details,” he said. “They modified the plan to fit within that footprint, but were going to tweak it more. I said, ‘Hold off. Let’s have the city say we can do this before you guys spend any more time on it.'”
Now that the Friends have the go-ahead from the council, the plan thus far will be presented to city officials to see what they say, then it will be fine-tuned, Sabetti said.
“We want to make sure it’s OK with the city and Little League before we drill down on details,” he said.
Where is the funding for the basketball court coming from?
The City Council in November 2019 approved an application for a grant from the state Department of Environmental Management to construct a full-size basketball court at the sports complex. Along with the skate park, they will be built where the T-ball Michaud Field is now.
The state approved the application for the basketball court and awarded the city $100,000, which was accepted by the City Council in September 2020.
Spare Change: ‘Friends’ get their long-awaited skate park in Newport
The basketball court with bleachers, fencing, wheelchair accessibility and other amenities, will cost a total of $125,000. Under the agreement, the city will pay 20% of the costs, or $25,000.
Scott Wheeler, the city’s superintendent of parks, grounds and forestry, who is overseeing the project, is named in the grant agreement as the city’s representative. He referred questions Thursday about the status of the plan to Tom Shevlin, the city’s communications officer.
Shevlin said there is a completed design for the basketball court, but it will be reviewed again by city officials in the context of an overall design for both the court and skate park.
Friends of Newport Skatepark had Spohn provide a layout of both the skate park and basketball court within the agreed upon perimeter of the project. “We hope start meeting with Scott Wheeler very soon,” Sabetti said. “Once the city signs off, we’ll go back to Spohn for the final skate park design.”
How much will the skate park cost, and who will pay for it?
Friends of Newport Skatepark is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that will conduct the fundraising to pay for the park. The Board of Directors will meet Sunday to discuss next steps, Sabetti said.
A lifetime of surf and skate: Water Brothers founder Sid Abbruzzi reflects on 50 years in business
“To play it safe, we’re estimating the cost at about $1 million,” he said. “That’s based on what we have that is not yet approved. A cost estimate is a fleeting thing until we finalize some things, but that is our goal.”
“We haven’t been fundraising until the city approved the location,” Sabetti said. “Now that we have the approval, we will soon have a “Donate” button on our website,” at friendsofnewportskatepark.com.
The city has about $72,000 in a special account that was raised before Friends of Newport Skatepark was formed, he said. The money was raised, Sabetti said, through the efforts of Sid Abbruzzi and Tim Boucher, who made building a new skate park his senior year project in 2016 while he was still at Rogers High School.
Boucher, now a graduate student earning an MBA, flew back from Hawaii for Wednesday’s council meeting, where he spoke passionately about the need for a Newport skate park.
“How wonderful that he was able to celebrate the approval and not fly home depressed,” Sabetti said.
Abbruzzi, owner of the Water Brothers shop and long active in the surfing and skateboarding communities, co-owned Skater Island that operated in Middletown from 2000 to 2007, so he has a lot of experience in the field.
Guillaume de Ramel announced an early donation of $20,000 by the de Ramel Foundation in November 2016 for a new skate park, according to the Friends website. De Ramel attended Wednesday’s council meeting.
That money is in the city’s special account, Sabetti said. The Gruben Charitable Foundation made a $20,000 donation, and de Ramel was associated with a yet another $20,000 donation that also involved the Frederick Henry Prince Memorial Fund and the Newport Hospital Foundation, according to the website.
Sabetti said the organization will be applying for grants from other charitable foundations and organizations, as well as from private individuals. “We’ll also be looking for the donation of construction services,” he said.
Jerry Kirby, a principal behind Kirby Perkins Construction Co., sits on the Friends advisory committee. “He may be able to help,” Sabetti said.
What is the projected timeline for construction?
“The schedule will be largely dependent on the city,” Sabetti said. “We have been working on our design for years and we are pretty much ready to go.”
”We have all winter for the fundraising of adequate funds,” he added. “If the city is ready, we may be able to start in the spring.”
Sabetti could not say how long construction might take.
The city must have a replacement T-ball court ready at Mianonomi Park before construction can begin of the skate park and basketball court. The Aquidneck Land Trust has a conservation easement for Miantonomi Park and it may have to be modified to allow installation of a backstop for the field.
“I’ve had preliminary discussions with the executive director,” City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. said Thursday. “We have indications they would look upon it favorably. We just have to share our plan and see what needs to be modified under the strictures of the conservation easement.”
Nicholson does not see any problems looming for the project.
“It’s now just putting the package together,” he said. “There was no point in doing a lot of work until the policymakers gave us direction and they’ve done that.”
The DEM grant agreement says all construction of the basketball court must be completed by Dec. 31, 2022, but Wheeler has said receiving an extension would be possible if a plan is in place.
Backers of the plan are hoping no extension will be necessary.
Why the North End for the new amenities?
“Our master plan shows we are desperately short of athletic resources in the North End,” said Wheeler, referring to the “Open Space Master Plan” developed by the Newport Open Space Partnership and its consultant, Sasaki Associates Inc., in 2017.
He was speaking at a meeting of the Tree & Open Space Commission in October 2019.
About 65% of the city’s children live in the North End, mostly north of Admiral Kalbfus Road, according to city officials.
The open space plan pointed out that the North End of the city contains only 7.5% of the city’s park space and 18% of the city’s playgrounds, yet 44% of the city’s population lives there.
Residents long have advocated for a new basketball court in the north that is open to teens and adults, at first because the basketball court at the Pell Elementary School often was not available. Now, the basketball court at Pell is being removed to make way for a new eight-room addition and a bus loop.
What happened to the skate park at Easton’s Beach?
The city opened a skate park at Easton’s Beach in 1999, but for the most part, it didn’t catch on with skateboarders and was demolished by the city in February 2017.
Many times, the concrete skate park area was deserted. Sand blew into the area from the beach and rubber pulled out from the seams between the concrete sections, allowing wheels to get caught. The ocean salt also corroded the steel set in the concrete.
Skateboarders in past years claimed the skate park was designed by a construction company and not by skateboarders, and that it came in pre-fabricated sections with elements that were not safe.
The area was also difficult to get to from Newport neighborhoods, because kids had to skate down the hill of busy Memorial Boulevard to get there, or have parents drive them.
How did backers of the skate park react to the city’s approval?
“It’s wonderful news for all the kids in the North End,” Sabetti said. “They are going to have a skate park and a basketball court.”
“If that decision was not made last night, we would have gone into the abyss again,” Abbruzzi said Thursday. “Instead, we’re a thousand times stoked.”
The opposing council members suggested finding another site, but that search was fruitless for a long time, according to the skate park proponents. Abbruzzi said he and others offered options for a skate park over the years — places such as the Braga, Murphy and Vernon parks, but there was always opposition.
“They offered us nothing,” he said. “Those parks were never on the table. The opponents never offered us a secondary option. There was no other piece of pie.”
Abbruzzi noted that City Council member Elizabeth Fuerte said Wednesday they should find a bigger site to build a bigger skate park. “We want to make your dream come true,” she said.
“Of course, we’d like a bigger skate park, but what were we going to do wait around for the city to buy Navy property or something?” he asked. “We’ll build the best skate park we can with the site we have.”